Why small churches are closing

Though there are signs to hearten and cheer us in various places, nevertheless an ever-deepening crisis concerns the demise of smaller churches, often, but not always, in little towns and villages.

Sometimes the factors driving decline may be peculiar to particular localities and settings – for example the extraordinarily high price of housing in certain localities, say in London, which means that the average person cannot afford to live there.

But apart from specific difficulties, it is worth thinking about more general considerations that the evangelical community, concerned for Christ’s cause, needs to face.

Spiritual state of the UK

Starting here does give a general context to the demise. Of course secularism expects the churches in Britain to fade into oblivion as outdated relics of a bygone age of foolish faith. But Scripture would tell us that it is not ‘progress’ that makes a land spiritually barren. It must be due to the judgment of God. And where we have a country in which successive governments have written into law the promotion of attitudes and behaviour directly opposed to God’s standards, we are bound to see it as the inexorable slow-motion wrath of God in action.

This does not mean that we should abandon evangelism or that God does not save people today. But it does mean that the going is tough. The gospel is directly opposed by those who hold the levers of power and who shape public opinion.

Some try to be upbeat by saying ‘Well, we are simply back in the situation faced in Acts.’ But that is actually far from true. There are now hindrances that the early church never faced. ‘Gospel’ means ‘good news.’ The gospel was ‘news’ to the first century world. But our times dismiss it as ‘old hat’. And with political correctness dominating public discourse, the exclusive claims of Christ and the call to a godly life look restrictive and bad, not good. It is assumed that Christianity has been tried in the past and is now found wanting.

Furthermore, the church of Acts did not have to contend with groups that call themselves churches, but having drifted from the gospel, are not churches at all. And further still, whereas the church of Acts was full of the power of the Spirit and holy love, the evangelical churches of today are rarely of that quality (this calls for repentance). Some are grim, joyless, unwelcoming places – fraught with in-fighting going back years. This too makes evangelism tough.

See the situation in context. It is easy for us to despise smaller churches and for their pastors to become despondent. Sometimes in their despair they simply give up.

Small churches, good and bad

Some smaller churches, having grasped the tendency of God we find in Scripture – to champion the needy and to use what is weak to show His power and glory – are full of faith. They are a joy to visit. They are a band of brothers and sisters, full of hope and love, who are up for anything so long as it is biblical and will promote Christ’s name.

But many smaller churches are not like that. They are discouraged and gloomy. Three obstacles to progress are especially common.

Obstacle 1 – ‘Our church’ mentality

The first is the attitude that sees the church as ‘our church’ (rather than primarily Christ’s church). This can be in terms of one prominent family who regard it as their church. Woven into that phrase ‘our church’ is a whole raft of unhelpful assumptions and attitudes including a cloying concern to keep things as they always have been for the comfort of those who have long attended. There is no desire to reach out intelligently to a modern world which is lost.

Obstacle 2 – Tricky individuals

The second road-block to progress in little churches is often a particularly difficult character. There can be one outspoken and angular person, male or female, who dominates the church. They say their church needs help, but actually what they want is help in keeping things precisely as they are, including their own hold on position in the church.

Obstacle 3 – Insular culture

third hindrance can be when a church consists of a group of shy diffident people who are determined to remain so. They choose a pastor like themselves, who is not really a ‘people person’ and, although they would like to see the church grow, they do their best to avoid visitors. ‘It’s just the way we are,’ they protest. But the real test of our obedience to Christ is whether or not we will obey Him when His commands cut across our natural tendencies.

A few years ago a zealous young couple went to a small church determined to do what they could to help. They moved house and threw themselves into the work. But it was like bashing their heads against a brick wall. Eventually they decided to pull out. Sometimes the closure of small churches is down to themselves.

The attitude of large churches

It is of course wrong to generalise – not all larger churches are as I will now describe. But quite a few are.

Some large churches simply neglect helping smaller churches around them. In fact they might even despise their brothers and sisters in Christ simply because they are not ‘successful’ like them. The secular world is all about success and these churches too see success purely in terms of numbers. Lack of success is the new leprosy for these churches. They don’t wish to be seen to be associated in any way with the disease. They pass by on the other side.

Other large churches look upon the plight of smaller congregations as nothing other than an opportunity for them to build their own empires. ‘Yes, we will help you – but it can only be as a takeover.’ It is ecclesiastical Darwinism at work. Evidently, the strong are meant to prevail and the weak must go to the wall. These churches go in to help as lords not as servants. Understandably, many smaller churches take fright and refuse the offer of a takeover.

Still other stronger churches do feel a pang of conscience that they really ought to be helping the weak. But, realising they should do something they keep their commitment to a minimum, or shape it more in terms which will help them rather than the needy group. The small church is seen as a place to send young inexperienced preachers for a trial to fill the pulpit, but little else is done. Many large churches aspire to becoming a ‘hub church’ for the area. Reputation is what it is all about.

Being big often does mean that the Lord has blessed. But how is that genuine blessing to continue? The Lord Jesus said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35).

Candidates for the ministry

The idea of being called to an obscure parish or little country chapel doesn’t go down well with many men who aspire to the ministry today. They frequently desire the security of being part of a team ministry, and of course they must be in a church which attracts students.

Listen to the challenging words of John Newton giving counsel to another minister: ‘Considering that our Lord’s kingdom is not of this world, I have thought it a little strange, that when his ministers think He calls them to leave one charge for another, it should almost universally be from less to more; to a better income, to a larger town or a more genteel congregation. We seldom have an instance of a retrograde call. … For one to leave London for a charge in the country is rare indeed.’1

In all these areas something has got to change if churches are not to fold.

John Benton

John Benton is en’s former Managing Editor and Director of Pastoral Support at The Pastor’s Academy, www.pastorsacademy.org

1. Wise Counsel: John Newton’s Letters to John Ryland Jr., Edited by Grant Gordon, Banner of Truth, 2009, p.262

Evangelical Anglicans on the fault line in New Zealand

I have been privileged to visit New Zealand twice this year. On my first visit in May, I had time to explore a little of this beautiful land from alpine mountains to the lush forests bordering restless volcanic lakes, but I am still haunted by the sight of the ruined Christchurch Cathedral, its west end still open to the elements after the spire collapsed in the 2011 earthquake.

My second visit, in mid-October, was for the consecration of The Revd Jay Behan as the first bishop of the new Church of Confessing Anglicans Aotearoa/New Zealand (CCAANZ), an extra provincial diocese under the oversight of the GAFCON Primates Council. While Christchurch Cathedral remains a ruin, courageous Anglicans in New Zealand are taking the first steps to restore the grievously damaged spiritual fabric of Anglican life and witness.

By its decision to allow the blessing of same-sex marriages, the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia’s (ACANZP) has forsaken ‘the foundation of the apostles and prophets’ (Eph. 2:20) and hope for the future must now lie with this new diocese. It is small, consisting at the moment of just 12 parishes, but no one should underestimate the significance of this historic step.

The chief consecrator was Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church of North America, and those assisting him included Archbishop Laurent Mbanda of the Anglican Church of Rwanda and Archbishop Glenn Davies of Sydney. Some 650 people attended the service, and greetings came from Anglican Primates around the globe.

New Zealand is now on a spiritual as well as geographic fault line of which attitudes to same-sex marriage and relationships are just one indicator. The deeper issue is about the identity of Anglicanism itself. Are we primarily a confessional church, in the sense of being defined by a core doctrinal identity, or are we primarily an institutional church which has developed norms for managing conversations which never reach conclusions?

Whatever their views on the blessing of same-sex marriage happen to be, it is quite clear on which side of the fault line the leadership of the ACANZP stand. Archbishops Donald Tamihere and Philip Richardson issued a statement following the Christchurch consecration in which they bemoaned ‘boundary crossing’, especially by bishops of the Anglican Church of Australia and went on to say: ‘The disrespect for the normal protocols of the Anglican Communion and the lack of courtesy shown to our church by these boundary-crossing bishops is disturbing and we will be making an appropriate protest about their actions.’

Here we see the spiritual ruin of the old Anglican structures in New Zealand revealed just as starkly as the physical ruin of Christchurch Cathedral. Crossing the boundaries of apostolic faith and teaching is unremarkable and perfectly tolerable. What really offends these archbishops is not false teaching, but the setting aside of ecclesiastical protocols, notwithstanding that the action is principled and aimed at restoring the very order those protocols were originally intended to preserve.

The greater tragedy of course is that this fault line is now being extended through the whole Anglican Communion by the Archbishop of Canterbury. For Welby has signalled with absolute clarity on which side of the fault line he stands by his decision to invite same-sex partnered bishops to the 2020 Lambeth Conference, while faithful Anglicans in North and South America, who are recognised by the majority of the Communion, are relegated to the status of ‘ecumenical observers’.

There will be many more tremors and worse to come, but we can take heart that an ever-growing number of global Anglicans are looking to that ‘kingdom which cannot be shaken’ (Heb. 12:28).

Charles Raven

Charles Raven is Membership Development Secretary of GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference).

Photograph: Ruins of Christchurch Cathedral after the 2011 Canterbury earthquake | photo: iStock

Raising black boys with hope

Kristie Anyabwile shares her fears and where she finds comfort and refuge

My son hasn’t always known he was black. For the first seven years of his life, he primarily referred to people in shades of browns and tans, and certainly didn’t know that being black could mark him as a target.

That only happened when we moved to the US in the summer of 2014, the summer of the shootings of Eric Garner and Mike Brown and John Crawford. After an idyllic upbringing on a tropical island in the Caribbean, my son had all the uncertainty and excitement any seven-year-old third-culture kid would have in moving to his country of citizenship and living in a big city for the first time. But uncertainty quickly overtook excitement as that horrible summer unfolded into a long season of black death perpetrated by police officers, culminating in the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.

Fast-forward four years. My son recently turned 12 years old. As much as I enjoyed celebrating this milestone with him, I could not help but grieve for Samaria Rice, Tamir’s mother, who will never get to see Tamir as a teenager or young man. All the firsts are over. What’s left is lasts. His last hug, his last ‘I love you,’ his last doctor’s appointment, his last field trip, his last birthday, his last funny moment, his last day on the playground with his toy gun. When I look at my son with his red Adidas hoodie, his name-brand sneakers, his slightly baggy jeans, I see him as cute and cuddly, as he was as a toddler. But I know others may see him as a threat. My chest tightens with anxiety over his future. Will he have one, or will it be snuffed out, perhaps even by someone sworn to protect him?

There it is. My fear on the table.

I’m sure I’m not alone. All of us experience fear in varying degrees and circumstances. All moms, I think, experience fear of one sort or another as it relates to their children. But moms of black American boys in particular live with the constant buzz of fear ringing in our ears. But what are we to do? How do I fight my fears with faith? As the mom of a black boy in America, how does God’s word help me dispel my fears as I raise my son?

I have taken my fear to Psalm 119, and this is what the Lord has shown me.


‘Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant. Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight’ (Psalm 119:76-77).

There is no mistaking the main actor in Psalm 119. References to God and His activity in the lives of His people abound. God works providentially in precise alignment with His word. He does what He says, and one of the things He says to me and does for me, that gives me hope and silences my fear, is comfort me. God promises to console us in our pains and afflictions and fears and sorrows. He comforts with reminders of His steadfast love, which never ceases and which even death cannot extinguish. His mercies are new every morning and attest to His faithfulness (Lam. 3:22-23). As long as His love continues, so will His comfort. When I’m fearful about the world preying on my son, or fearful that what he wears or where he goes might get him killed, or fearful that he will be tragically misunderstood, I remember the love of God – that perfect love that casts out my fear. I lay my anxieties and fears at His feet, and in His tender mercy He comforts me. I have learned how to pray with the psalmist: Lord, ‘remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.’ (Psalm 119:49-50).


‘You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word’ (Psalm 119:114).

I remember when I first taught Psalm 119:9 to my son. We were reading a children’s book based on this verse, called The Squire and the Scroll. The story’s young squire embarked on a dangerous journey with his knight to find a special lantern stolen by an evil dragon. Returning this lantern would restore peace and joy to his homeland. The squire’s parents gave him a little scroll with rules he was to remember on his journey in order to keep his heart pure. Those rules saved the squire from real and present dangers on his journey.

As much as I would love to, I can’t stand in front of my son guarding him like Wonder Woman, with my metal bracelets warding off the darts and arrows and shots and temptations of the world. However, God offers him protection through His word. The word reminds him to keep his way pure by guarding it according to the word of God and encourages him to seek the Lord with his whole heart and not wander from His commands (Psalm 119:9-10). There is eternal safety there, even if I can’t guarantee his safety here. The word of God is a hiding place and shield for my son and for me. Like the old hymn goes: ‘If I hold my peace and let the Lord fight my battles, Vict’ry, vic’try shall be mine.’

He calls me to stand firm in the faith, stand firm for justice, stand firm in the gospel, and trust Him to keep and protect my heart as I hope in His word without fear. Meditating on God’s word brings me comfort in the midst of my fears and serves as my refuge as I stand for Him and trust Him with my son’s future. Wherever his future leads, I pray it would land him straight into the arms of Jesus with an abiding faith that endures the hardships of this life and looks forward to eternity. I have daughters too, and other fears for them. But this is one mom’s meditation on how raising an African-American son in America has driven me to both greater fear than I’ve known before and deeper trust in the Lord. His word spurs me on and gives me courage with this hope. To paraphrase MLK: ‘I want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to my son, and to the sons of others, so that we can make of this old world a new world.’

Kristie Anyabwile

God’s story defines us. Yet our culture and experiences shape us. Join a diverse gathering of gifted women of colour as they walk through Psalm 119 in His Testimonies My Heritage. Published in September 2019 by The Good Book Company.


Resourcing and realities of ministry in areas of poverty

20schemes has launched a new website 20schemesEquip.com in response to their growing worldwide audience. Equip is a site dedicated to articles, book reviews, videos, their podcast, and much more. All content relates directly to ministry in hard communities around the world. It also highlights content written from various difficult contexts around the world.

This site is more than just a blog; it is a bank of resources. The site launched with hundreds of unique articles, organised by topic, relevant to ministry among the poor. The topics include things like addiction, abuse, suicide, mental health, and pastoral ministry.

In the ‘Uncut’ podcast, Mez McConnell interviews practitioners serving among the poor. Songs composed by and for those living in poor communities will also be available. 20schemes Equip will tell the story behind the songs and provide lead sheets so others across the UK and the world might sing them. Training courses are also being developed to provide certifications in various aspects of urban ministry, with specialisms for women’s workers, church planters, youth and children’s workers, biblical counselling, and more.

All Equip content will be very clearly directed at those involved in ministry to the poor. No matter where you are or what your role is, if you are seeking to evangelise, disciple, or lead a church in an area of poverty, then we hope this will become an essential go-to resource for you.

Hard times in the schemes

The past few Autumn months have been difficult for the church plants of 20schemes. One congregation experienced the death of a baby boy. A scheme lad, who once made a profession of faith but had fallen away, was found dead. The wife of one of the church planters died unexpectedly. Chris Davidson, a church planter in Inverness tweeted: ‘Tough times in Merkinch. Two of our lads that we have been discipling have just been charged and sent to prison. One other lad was stabbed at the weekend and another lad who didn’t turn up was the boy who did the stabbing.’

The times are dark and the enemy is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. However, during these times of pain and sorrow God’s faithfulness has been on display through the tears. One of the 20schemes team said: ‘It has been such an encouragement to see these church families come together and love and serve one another so deeply. The phrase “church family” is much more than a Christian cliché, but a very life-sustaining reality that has, and will continue to, bring us out of the darkness of grief.’

Please pray for the 20schemes congregations, planters and staff to persevere. Pray for the light of the gospel to continue to break through the darkness that hangs so heavily over the schemes of Scotland. Pray that we will see souls saved and brought from death into life.


Last Word: Anarchy

Picture the scene. Boris and Jeremy join forces. Conservatives and Labour make a pact. Two warring parties work together to usurp a new political force in their capital.

On the eve of a general election, it all sounds rather improbable. But in 33AD – in a nation perhaps more politically divided than our own – it happened. ‘And they sent to [Jesus] some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk.’ (Mark 12:13)

The Pharisees were accepted by some as the true authority owing to their zeal for the law. The Herodians were accepted by others because of their association with Herod. Yet remarkably these two political foes join forces to raze a new king surging in the Jerusalem polls – Jesus.

How do they seek to fell him? They try to tie him to a more powerful and more unpopular authority. No, not Trump… but Rome. They throw Jesus a coin – a hated silver denarius. A coin worth a day’s wages and a coin that represented Roman taxation. And they ask Jesus if they should pay it. If Jesus says ‘no’ the authorities will seize him. If Jesus says ‘yes’ the masses will riot. It’s heads Jesus loses; it’s tails they win.

Yet this episode ends not in anarchy, but in amazement as Jesus sticks to his previous allegory – the Parable of the Tenants (Mark 12:1-11). For as Jesus explained to the crowds, the vineyard (which represented God’s kingdom) will now be given to others. God’s kingdom, which God’s people were previously born into, would now be given to those born of the Spirit – those able to recognise the owner’s son.

No longer a nation state

Hence, shortly after Mark 12, God’s true people became God’s true vineyard. God’s kingdom would no longer be a nation state. The Church, comprised of every nation, would be the alternative polis where pleasing spiritual fruit may be offered to the owner.

As a result, Christians live in two kingdoms. They are citizens of both Church and state. Their true citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20), yet their earthly citizenship remains. They receive the passport of baptism when they enter the Church, but their actual passports are not also thrown into the river upon profession. British Christians belong to the truly united kingdom, Christ’s Church, yet they also belong to the literal United Kingdom.

So returning to 33AD, and the political question about authority and taxation… do God’s people submit to a vile government? Jesus’s response is striking: ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’ (Mark 12:17).

His political riposte is not only stunningly clever, it is stunningly instructive. According to Jesus this evil, pagan, non-Christian Roman government is a legitimate authority. The fact that God’s people now live in his kingdom under his law does not remove the fact that they still live in particular kingdoms with particular laws.

Evangelicals may feel disgruntled about the United Kingdom in which we live today. We might feel even more disgruntled post-election. Yet on 13 December – when we shall know the victor – we are to remember that whether it is a Boris or Jeremy government (or, who knows, even a Jo or Nigel government) we are to be subject to them.

‘Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.’ (Romans 13:1-2)

Does that mean that Boris or Jeremy are to be obeyed in all things? No, Christians must be willing to disobey their government if the state tells them to do something which is directly opposed to King Jesus’ law.

When Emperor Nero, a few years later, told Christians to worship him. Christians did not trot out, ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s’ and bow. They were slain for such ‘rebellion’, as many brothers and sisters are, sadly, today. We must certainly be willing to disobey the UK Government and face the consequences.

Yet what of those who will govern us in 2020? The next section of Mark 12 reminds us that not only are our rulers tenants of a momentary kingdom, but that they will rise to judgement. During their fleeting season of power, politicians may band together against the risen and reigning King (as the Herodians and Pharisees did), but we are to remember that Christ will soon usher in His forever kingdom.

‘Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.’ (Psalm 2:10–12)

Jonathan Worsley is also pastor of Kew Baptist Church, London.

No New Testament

People slept on the streets outside bookshops the night before the launch of The Testaments this September.

The day of the launch was marked by a programme live-streamed to cinemas across the globe containing an interview with the author and readings from the book. This was, The Guardian told us, ‘the literary event of the year’, with hype on a Harry Potter level.

The centre of attention wasn’t, however, a phenomenon of children’s publishing, but a sequel (and in some ways a prequel) which followed 34 years after Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale.

This first book is a well-respected dystopian feminist text, often set for A-level and known for its subtle exploration of fear, loss and longing through the story of Offred, one of the handmaid surrogates brought in to bear children for infertile elite couples in the republic of Gilead. In it we see the distortion of Old Testament narratives to support a totalitarian regime run through surveillance and violence and strict division of the sexes. The three 2017-19 TV series, which extended Atwood’s original and made the handmaid’s red cloak and white winged bonnet an instantly recognisable, have remade (and arguably reduced) the story for the #MeToo generation, reshaping the handmaid as an icon for 21st-century popular feminism.

So, we now have ‘handmaids’ marching against proposed abortion limits and even Kylie Jenner holding a handmaid-themed birthday party. The Handmaid’s Tale, we’re told, has ‘a new prescience in the era of Donald Trump’. Strangely (and this has been noted by others), those marching in Washington don’t seem to dwell on the clearer parallels between the countries under sharia law and the dystopia of Gilead. Nor does anyone seem to apply Atwood’s inditement of surrogacy and polygamy/amory to Western culture today.

If Atwood wrote Th e Handmaid’s Tale against the 1980s backdrop of Soviet totalitarianism and the Iranian Revolution, adding a feminist interpretation of puritan New England, The Testaments has been written against our current background of increasingly mainstream feminism.

It’s also, in a large part, a response to the Handmaid TV show. Atwood acknowledges to her fans that, ‘everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in’. This means that the tone and content of the books are very different. Gone is nuance and fear, in is action and optimism.

The Handmaid’s Tale’s narrator was Offred, a mother and once a wife, now a handmaid. She is essentially a passive character, trapped physically by the regime and bound to her memories of the past. The Testaments has three narrators, whose separate stories become increasingly interwoven as the novel progresses. Of these three, Daisy and Agnes are young girls, one growing up in Gilead, one outside, and Lydia is an ‘Aunt’, a formidable manager of the handmaids and an architect of the system. This means that through Lydia we hear of how Gilead came into being and how complicit women become in their own oppression, scheming against each other for power. Lydia is the most interesting of these narrators, but still, the plot so drives the novel that she isn’t finely drawn.

Like a slightly literary Hunger Games, the story bowls along through its 400+ pages until eventually the baddies (and they really are baddies) are dealt with through sisterly loyalty and a lot of female cunning, as well as some Shakespearean coincidence. Go girl power!

Underneath the action of the thriller-style plot, however, there remains some good Atwood subtlety. When Agnes doubts her faith, she says ‘you feel exiled. As if you are lost in a dark wood’, but is reassured that the Bible tells a different story from Gilead’s doctrine. Still, the shocking Judges 19–21 narrative of the Levite and his concubine referred to in The Handmaid’s Tale makes an appearance here, with, of course no mention of its subtext – that when each of us do ‘as [we] see fit’, disaster for women, and men as well, ensues.

Some readers might see the book as a condemnation of Christianity, and of the danger of a doctrine of revelation which requires submission to an ancient text. But note that in both these books Jesus isn’t mentioned and Bibles are locked up. Gilead religion is all duty, law and power, with no grace and no questions.

What Atwood condemns instead is the extremism possible in any thought system – even MeToo feminism, of which she recently said: ‘Anyone who doesn’t puppet their views is seen as an apostate, a heretic, a traitor, and moderates in the middle are annihilated.’ Her fans may not realise it, but they can be guilty of Gilead-like oppression as well. What should our response be? To open the Bible and point to the God-man who humbled Himself and gave up power to set captives free.

Sarah Allen

Sarah lives in Huddersfield and is a member of Hope Church where her husband is a pastor. She teaches A level English and is currently studying for a Masters in theology.

Bangladesh: Rohingya Christians Persecuted

In September it was reported that a tiny and unknown group of Rohingya Christians have faced violence from some of the 750,000 Muslim Rohingyas who fled Myanmar as refugees.

A church leader told of an upsurge in violence and pleaded for prayers for the estimated ‘several hundreds’ of Rohingya Christian converts from Islam. Already belonging to what some have called the ‘most persecuted people on earth’, the small community of Rohingya believers are now being subjected to anti-Christian violence in the camps in Cox’s Bazaar district.

Violent attack

In May 2019, a group of 17 families (69 people) living next to each other in simple shacks, some with only mud walls and tarpaulin roofs, were violently attacked on at least three consecutive nights by a Muslim mob of several hundred men armed with knives, swords, iron rods, stones and catapults.

A Christian boy was stabbed in the back and needed hospital treatment. A film showed large stones flying over the heads of Christians, including young children, fleeing in a small open truck. The mob also looted possessions, including the equipment of a Christian barber, before destroying his small shop and forcing him to go to the mosque to reconvert to Islam.

Forced back

The May attacks culminated with the threat that the Christians would be killed if they did not leave the camp. The Christians attempted to flee, only to be forced back to the camp by police and security guards. No camp security personnel attempted to protect the Christians and there was no investigation into the attacks.

The rise in violent persecution against Rohingya Christians follows calls by Rohingya Muslims in December 2018 for the Bangladeshi Government to expel Christians from the camps. One asked for Muslim leaders around the world to ‘chase them out of this place’.

Cut off

The isolated community in the camps is cut off from the wider Christian community in Bangladesh.

Rohingya Christians were reported to be struggling to buy food and other necessities due to camp shopkeepers refusing to serve them. These shopkeepers have been under pressure from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA, formerly called Harakah al-Yaqin), an extremist group active in the camps. Christians are also often completely left out when international aid, such as rice and mosquito nets, is distributed by Muslims.

Barnabas Fund is working discreetly to get essential supplies including food, clothes and medication to Rohingya Christians. They are also seeking to repair homes that have been damaged or destroyed, either by violence or by the frequent heavy rains in Bangladesh.

Barnabas Fund